Online Leaders Tell FCC Chairman to Protect a Free, Open Internet

In an open letter to the FCC’s Wheeler, 149 Internet companies said ISPs shouldn’t be able to discriminate against them, technically or financially.

Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Ebay, Twitter and Microsoft are among 149 Internet-based companies that signed a May 7 letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler, expressing their support for a “free and open Internet” and their concern over upcoming changes to the rules that govern the World Wide Web.

The online innovations of the last 20 years “happened in a world without [online] discrimination,” the companies said, and the open Internet has “been a platform for free speech and opportunity for billions of users.”

They continued:

“According to recent news reports, the Commission intends to propose rules that would enable phone and cable Internet service providers (ISPs) to discriminate both technically and financially against Internet companies and to impose new tolls on them. If these reports are correct, this represents a grave threat to the Internet.

“Instead of permitting individualized bargaining and discrimination, the Commission’s rules should protect users and Internet companies on both fixed and mobile platforms against blocking, discrimination and paid prioritization, and should make the market for Internet services more transparent.”

While the FCC has yet to present the newest draft of the Open Internet Notice on Proposed Rulemaking, The Wall Street Journal reported April 23 that the FCC, while insisting traffic couldn’t be slowed, planned to allow companies to pay extra for faster service.

Wheeler quickly responded in a blog post, saying that “misinformation” had surfaced, and the new Notice will not allow “unreasonable discrimination.” Rather than allay concerns by not directly addressing the pay-for-priority issue and using the worrisomely vague term “commercially unreasonable” to describe what ISPs won’t be allowed to do, Wheeler confirmed many industry fears.

“This Commission should take the necessary steps to ensure that the Internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce so that America continues to lead the world in technology markets,” the tech companies wrote in their letter.

A pay-for-priority option is widely considered a disingenuous approach to net neutrality, the practice of treating all Internet traffic, regardless of its source or content, equally. Free Press CEO Craig Aaron, in a statement, called letting “deep-pocketed Internet companies enjoy the benefits of … newly created fast lanes” an “insult” to those who care about preserving an open Internet, while Vice reported on the “pernicious corruption of the revolving door,” pointing out a number of new hires at the FCC who previously worked for ISPs.

In May 7 blog post, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn didn’t mince words and seemed determine to distinguish her position from Wheeler’s.

When she voted to approve the 2010 Open Internet Order, she wrote, she voiced four concerns, one of which was that she would have “prohibited pay for priority arrangements altogether.”

Throughout the post she spoke in the first person, not on behalf of the Commission.

“I am listening to your voices as I approach this critical vote,” Clyburn wrote. “There is no doubt that preserving and maintaining a free and open Internet is fundamental to the core values of our democratic society, and I have an unwavering commitment to its independence.”

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